The IHSA Board of Directors said “No.”
At its meeting on Monday, the IHSA board decided not to allow student-athletes to compete for their high school volleyball teams while simultaneously participating in club volleyball during the spring and summer sports seasons.
IHSA By-law 3.100, which governs independent team participation, prevents participation on a school and non-school team at the same time in the same sport. The board elected not to provide an exemption to the rule.
“There was a lengthy and spirited discussion on if we should provide an exemption to this rule given the unprecedented nature of the school year,” said IHSA executive director Craig Anderson. “The board understands both sides of the argument and has heard from passionate advocates for each scenario.
“Ultimately, concerns over safety and equity left them uncomfortable with providing an exemption to this rule,” he added. “They understand it could lead to some difficult decisions between participating on a school or non-school team.”
The IHSA board took the view that by enforcing the by-law, more opportunities would be created for students to compete for their school teams.
“Fundamentally, the nature and mission of the IHSA is to provide participation opportunities to all students,” Anderson said. “The board agreed that if a student-athlete chooses to leave their school team for a non-school team, it simply creates an opportunity for another student to step in and fill that role.”
What does that mean for student-athletes who play volleyball in Illinois?
Unless USAV and AAU/JVA make some kind of calendar correction to accommodate those states which, like Illinois, have altered their high school sports schedule, volleyball will likely see an overlap between the revised high school seasons and traditional club seasons.
The Illinois high school girls’ season from February 15-May 1 will run concurrently with several scheduled USAV qualifiers, including the Northeast qualifier, the Show Me qualifier in Kansas City, Missouri, and the Northern Lights qualifier (15, 16 Open) in Minneapolis.
The USA Volleyball Girls 18s Junior National Championship is currently scheduled for April 23–25 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, meaning that under the IHSA by-law, Illinois high school seniors would be ineligible to play for their school teams and nationals.
AAU tournaments such as the Mizuno Showcase at the Wisconsin Dells would also fall in the middle of the revised IHSA girls’ schedule.
Because their exposure to college coaches was already significantly limited through the first several months of the pandemic with the cancellation of national club tournaments last spring and summer, some students may decide not to compete for their high school teams in 2021.
Michio Chicago Volleyball Academy club director Diane Mikulskis said the IHSA’s decision is just adding more stress on student-athletes in the midst of an already stressful situation.
“Our country is facing a mental health crisis with children and teenagers around COVID-19,” she said. “Myself and other club directors put together a summer league in July to get back in the gym to play, and we did. The kids had a great time. I received an overwhelming response from my parents reiterating the fact that the league was the perfect remedy as they were concerned about their child’s mental health.
“The IHSA has now complicated things even more by adding this stress back on the student-athlete so that they don’t have to be the ‘bad guy.’ To say if a child decides not to play with her high school team allows an opportunity for another shows me that they could care less about the student athletes who they supposedly represent.”
Mikulskis also said that the IHSA’s decision could put Illinois athletes behind in the college recruiting process.
“March and April are the two biggest recruiting months for student-athletes,” she said. “Colleges are behind in their recruiting already. There is a very good chance that they’ll have to pull the trigger on many kids quickly and that leaves our Illinois athletes behind.”
At least a couple of club directors have indicated they will not put their athletes in an either/or position.
“While it would make a lot of sense for the IHSA to make an exception this year for all sports given that it is such an unusual and unique year, I’m not sure it matters all that much to us right now,” said Bloomington-based Illini Elite Volleyball Club director Andy Erins.
“We would never want any players to choose to play club sports over school sports, and so our revised season is being planned to allow for both. We will start club season in October, stop when the high school season starts, and then pick up again once the high school season is done.”
Aurora-based Sports Performance does not participate in USA Volleyball national championship qualifiers, so the club’s athletes will not be severely affected by the IHSA board’s decision.
“We are not going to ask our players to attempt to play both club and high school volleyball from mid-February until the end of the high school season,” said Sports Performance owner Cheryl Butler. “It would be a poor decision and not in the best interest of the health of the athlete.
“We already have a fall training program plan in place based on skill and player development that will progress into a competitive team season in January and February,” Butler added. “When the players return from high school, we will transition into full team training and competition mode to prepare for the AAU National Championships in June.”
Downers Grove North senior libero, Michigan recruit and 1st Alliance club player Maddi Cuchran said playing for both an athlete’s high school and club team at the same time might be unrealistic anyway.
“I don’t know how you would manage high school and club at the same time,” she said. “I know a lot of high schools will be like if you miss practices or you miss games, you’re not allowed to play games.
“There’s no way you would be able to make that commitment to club and make a commitment to high school because of the time consumption,” Cuchran added. “It is unrealistic.”
Nazareth’s Izzy Decker, who also plays club for 1st Alliance, agreed with Cuchran.
“It might be really hard (to do both) just because high school is usually every day and club is like three times a week plus tournaments,” she said. “I feel it might be a little too much. I feel like a better option would be to make the athletes choose.”
However, Adversity Volleyball Club boys’ director Keith Kujawa said prior to the decision being handed down Monday that the organization would be making a mistake if it forces student-athletes to choose between playing for their high schools and their clubs.
“Recruiting for the collegiate athlete happens at the club level,” Kujawa said. “When forced to choose, the high schools will not win on either side, boys’ or girls. It is an unfortunate circumstance that it might come to this.”
Mikulskis said the IHSA’s decision is just another in a list of decisions that punish volleyball student-athletes.
“I always questioned IHSA and their decision making when creating playoff brackets for the state series,” she said. “You place the powerhouse schools in the same brackets to eliminate each other too early when those schools who are defeated are so deserving of a trip downstate, and now this.
“My heart hurts for these kids who have to make a decision in the coming months,” Mikulskis added. “This is ridiculous.”